The fuss over that episode of Q & A is becoming increasingly absurd.
Zaky Mallah was in the Q & A audience on Monday 22 June. 12 years earlier he had been convicted of threatening to kill.
He asked Steve Ciobo (the parliamentary secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade) a question which focussed on the idea that the Minister for Immigration might be able to cancel a person’s citizenship without the inconvenience of a trial to see whether the person had done something wrong. The following is what happened:
Zaky Mallah: “… what would have happened if my case had been decided by the minister himself and not the courts?”
Steve Ciobo: “I am not familiar with the circumstances of your case … but from memory I thought you were acquitted on a technicality rather than it being on the basis of substantial finding of fact. I got to tell you … my understanding of your case was that you were acquitted because at that point in time the laws weren’t retrospective but I am happy to look you straight in the eye and say I’d be pleased to be part of a government that would see you out of the country as far as I am concerned. I would sleep very soundly at night. I don’t apologise for this point of view”
That comment by Steve Ciobo prompted Mallah to say:
“The Liberals have just justified to many Australian Muslims in the community tonight to leave and go to Syria and join ISIL because of ministers like him,”
Tony Jones said Mallah’s comment was completely out of order.
That should have been an end of it. But the Abbott government went berserk. Government front-benchers who had agreed to appear on the following week’s Q & A withdrew. Now Abbott has ordered his front bench to refuse any invitation to appear on Q&A. Barnaby Joyce confirmed on The Insiders on Sunday morning that he was to appear on Monday night’s Q&A, but later cancelled
Why this infantile response? Well, the LNP give several reasons. First, they say that it was an unacceptable security risk that Mallah was allowed into the audience. This argument is so weak as to look idiotic. Mallah was acquited of a terrorist charge 13 years ago. He was found guilty of a charge of threat to kill: also 13 years ago. The suggestion that he was a risk to the people in the studio was ludicrous, and seems not to have been pursued.
The second complaint was that the ABC should not have allowed a person with his history to ask a question. But Mallah is known as a public opponent of ISIL. His question was a reasonable one, and was not directly related to ISIL (except that it was people thought to have fought with ISIL whose citizenship was to be cancelled by the Minister). The ABC could hardly have predicted that Ciobo would respond with such a foolish and intemperate response. Mallah’s reaction to Ciobo’s response was also intemperate but, viewed dispassionately, it was probably reasonable. A harsh government which is willing to sideline the rule of law in its populist assault on Islam can expect to radicalise some young Muslims. That seems to be the point of Mallah’s answer.
So: Mallah asked a reasonable question, Ciobo made an intemperate response to that reasonable question, and Mallah responded in a way which was rational but regrettable.
Why should the ABC be criticized for that? And why should the government boycott the programme, for something which was provoked by one of its own people, Steve Ciobo?